|About the presenter: Jim McClure has been active in the National Stuttering Association for more than 20 years as a chapter leader, board member and media relations director. He also is the consumer representative to the Specialty Board on Fluency Disorders. Jim worked as a newspaper reporter, corporate public relations manager and communications consultant before retiring last year. He is a retired Navy Reserve captain.|
Hindsight is always 20:20. Stuttering was a problem in my teens because I made it a problem. Here are some things I figured out in later life that I wish I had known when I was a teenager.
People don't much care whether you stutter or not.. Stuttering made me pretty self-centered when I was younger. Every block was an earth-shaking event to me, so I naturally assumed that everybody else noticed my stuttering as much as I did. I was wrong. When I began going to high school reunions years later, everybody remembered me as the editor of the high school newspaper. Almost no one remembered that I stutter.
Being upfront about your stuttering makes things easier. I wasted a lot of energy trying to hide my stuttering: changing words, avoiding situations. All this accomplished was that people who didn't realize I was stuttering thought I was either very nervous or about to have a seizure. Years later, I learned that the way you react to your stuttering determines how other people respond to you. You have the power to make your stuttering a major problem or a minor nuisance.
Attitude is everything. If you're ashamed of your stuttering, people will pick up on that: especially the idiots who hide their own insecurities by teasing others. You will make a more positive impression if you project an attitude of "yes, I stutter and I'm okay with it." A few years ago I heard a successful businessman speak at a NSA conference. His most memorable line was: "So I stutter. Tough shit." Now, that's attitude!
Taking risks with your speech builds confidence. It's tempting to hide by avoiding situations in which you are likely to stutter. Problem is, rearranging your life to avoid speaking makes those feared situations that much scarier. The alternative is to take the initiative and plunge right in: Introduce yourself first, volunteer to give a presentation in class, make that phone call to line up a prom date. Putting yourself out there is risky and will be embarrassing at times, but the more you open your mouth, the more comfortable speaking situations eventually become. It's even easier if you are open about your stuttering.
Get support from other people who stutter. Stuttering support groups did not exist when I was a teenager. I wish they had, because knowing that other people had the same experiences and feelings would have helped me realize that I was not some sort of freak. Talking about stuttering with your speech therapist helps, but spending time with other people who stutter will speed up the process of coming to terms with stuttering. I am impressed by the teens I see at support gatherings like the NSA conference because they have a level of self-confidence that I did not achieve until I was much older.
It gets easier as you get older. Really, it does. If you think being a teen is stressful at times, you're right. There's a lot going on. You are discovering your capabilities, exploring relationships, coping with the pressures of school, getting on your parents' nerves and re-inventing yourself as the adult you are going to be. In addition to all the other teenage stuff, you are coming to terms with your stuttering. The good news is that this condition is temporary. You are going to get older. As you move into your 20s and 30s, your growing experience and maturity will make you more confident in your abilities and more comfortable in your own skin and that will have an impact on your speech. In the meantime, relax and cut yourself some slack.
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